By now you’ve probably seen the TedX Charleston video of BibliLabs CEO Andrew Roskill talking about libraries. If not, here it is.  Seeing libraries through the eyes of those in business is, and always has been critical. We look at libraries as libraries, as public institutions, as inherently beneficial for communities.  Yet how easily the public positioning of libraries can – and IS – being corroded. Look no further than the UK and the US where funding has been severely cut. Severed, in fact. And while no public libraries have been closed here, we work in a vast array of libraries throughout Canada and see the constant negotiating for funding, especially in small or rural communities. Libraries compete every day for people’s attention. Jane and I have talked for years about the need for libraries to think, plan and act as businesses: in how they operate, build relationships, measure and report.

So does Roskill.  He compares Publix to Whole Foods, pointing out that while Whole Foods does not have the selection or pricing of Publix, it does have the appeal, service and elegance that attracts and retains customers.  “Be the Whole Foods” he says to libraries. YES!  “Have a sense of urgency,”  he encourages. YES!  He then looks at how libraries can be an essential element in helping people cross the economic divide by building their digital skills – the digital literacy so important to work and live today.

How can libraries regain their prominence in communities and in people’s ‘attention’?:

  1. Be mobile
  2. Ensure services and spaces are easy, elegant & engaging
  3. Focus on content not available else, the “green fields” that people can’t explore elsewhere, from local authors, small presses, etc.
  4. Curate. Oh thank you Roskill! YES! Curate by building collections that put content, images, and sounds into context — particularly context that is tailored to your unique community
  5. Leverage your physical presence.  This is what Amazon and Google don’t have. Physical places where people can work, read, study and gather.  Host special events that bring people in, and amaze them with what you have when they arrive.

Roskill’s concluding remarks should underpin any library’s relationship building and positioning.  He encourages the audience to go to their library, “This is your tax dollars at work, and usage drives priorities.” True.  Too true.  There’s a sense of urgency to drive the usage and lift the priority.  It isn’t enough for people to “think” public libraries are important (see the Pew Research).  Their experiences with public libraries need to demonstrate that libraries are important. 

There are all kinds of opportunities for you to draft a plan for your library that seizes this sense of urgency and builds on Roskill’s 5 points:

At CLA’s conference in Victoria, participate in Driving Change for Community Impact –  for $65 (which includes lunch) on Saturday May 31st;  register onsite or contact

At SLA’s conference in Vancouver, participate in Building the Future: Thinking, Planning, Doing on Friday June 6th; register here.

And to draft the measures your library needs to drive those priorities join Moe Hosseini-Ara (Director of Culture for City of Markham and Director Service Excellence at Markham Public Library) and I to work on your Strategy, Influence & Measures: Practical Tools on Wednesday May 28th; register onsite or contact

In the meantime, here’s Roskill: